Patch and Daniel- Intro

Daniel had heard, from old Gus at the hardware store, that some new pups were on the ground over at a fella’s place in Warner. Gus was fairly a local legend, though these days he mostly stayed home in his rooms behind the hardware store. He had been Gramps partner in the hardware business for almost sixty years. It was said that he had indian blood from back a ways, and that this accounted for an uncanny ability in the woods. It happens that Daniel had recently figured it was high time he had a partner for his partridge and woodcock hunting. Daniel was satisfied with the birds that fell to the old Model 17 pump, that he’d inherited from his Grandfather, but missed having a dog to share his time in the woods. Ya see, along with the 17, he was left with Grampa’s old bird dog, Max. Max was some sort of lab mix. Nobody really knew what the mix was though–Grampa had found Max as a pup on the side of the road one day and took him on home. Grampa and Max became great friends and Max loved scarin’ up partridge and woodcock about as much as he liked getting treats from the hardware customers while laying next to the woodstove. Daniel missed his grandfather something awful. He had done his best to fill the gap left when Daniel’s Dad was killed in Korea and Daniel and his grandfather became very close over the years– as Daniel grew to be a man. Well anyway, Grampa’s ticker failed him in his sleep one night and that left both that 20 gauge and Max to Daniel. They had a few fine seasons together after Grampa passed on, but Max left to be with his old friend and Daniel since longed for a pup of his own.

It was no sooner than Daniel stooped down to get to ground level, that one of of seven puppies saw him and ran to nearly jumping in his arms. That pup licked Daniel’s face and won his heart right then and there. I believe that these things happen between dogs and men and at that moment two souls were knit together, just as surely as maple syrup was invented in New Hampshire.

The pup was a blue belton Ryman dog and had a patch on his right eye. Daniel whispered the name ‘Patch’, paid the asking price of a hundred and fifty bucks and scooped him up for the short ride home. Patch was happy to ride in Daniel’s lap for the ride and so began their friendship and many many hours spent in the seat of Daniel’s pick up truck.

Daniel was a carpenter in the small town of Henniker, NH and there was plenty to keep him busy around town and at times over west in Hillsborough or north to Bradford for someone’s cousin or widowed sister. He and Patch seldom went over to the city of Concord, except when it was necessary to pick up plates at the DMV. The world was changing too fast in Daniel’s way of thinking and he was more comfortable around the small towns and the folks he knew that had their heads on straight. Most of them, anyway.

It was April of 1959 when Daniel got Patch and more and more of the farm land had been left to grow up. In addition, there were several lumber yards in the area that had been supplied in part by local loggers for many years. These things made for a healthy partridge population and the resident woodcock population was mighty good during that time, too.

When October came around and grouse were fair game, Daniel would put his tools away early enough to drive to one of his covers for a few hours of hunting before dark. Such was the case on this particular day. It was Friday afternoon on a bluebird day. The maples were bright red, the oaks an orange mix, poplar as yellow as the sun and the leaves had already begun to fall. Daniel and Patch lived for these days and with a weekend to follow with more than two days to anticipate, they were as happy as souls can be. This was Patch’s second season and the two were already becoming accustomed to one another. Patch loved birds and had begun to learn the game well. Grouse and woodcock were good school masters for a pointing dog and those halycon days in the New Hampshire woods provided many lessons indeed. It didn’t take a dog, with even a lick of sense, long to get his advanced degree in grouse and doodle and as long as Daniel did his part with the smoothbore, it all came together. Patch had no trouble finding and pointing birds and when a mature grouse made a mistake or a bird of the year flew with less experience, Daniel’s number 8’s would more as not, bring a bird to the bag for dinner. It wasn’t that he was a cracker jack wing shot. There were better men with a shotgun around town such as old Gus, but a young bird hunter did get lots of practice in those days.

Daniel’s Ford just made it through the branches choking the long abandoned road that they entered that afternoon. Like many others that Daniel knew of, this track led up to a small group of old homesteads of the previous century. Hard land that tough folks scratched out a living on until either death or the cities and an easier life called them on. The evidence of their labors was still there. Granite stone fences and foundations, rusting tools and wells dug in boney ground. There were grape vines gone wild and apple trees and the remains of planted hedge rows of berries and rose. Such were the remains of another time–like memories– they dotted the north woods. Such were the favored haunts of ruffed grouse for here it was that they found food and cover in abundance.

Of course just as all bird dogs do; Patch knew well what was in store as Daniel turned off the main road and by the time the truck stopped and the engine was silenced, Patch was just about excited. He could barely sit still while his bell was attached, but sat obediently anyway, as Daniel put on his vest and took the Model 17 from behind the seat.

“Alrighty Patch–let’s go find those birds” and off Patch went working along the old path with his nose high and searching.

Watching his pal go, Daniel took a deep breath before following, closed his eyes briefly and gave silent thanks for his fortune. And then he set his gun in the crook of his arm and followed.

Patch worked close to the gun and was seldom long out of sight; but for the clumps of thick vines and berry brambles wound around birch and ash trees. The two of them had been to this spot before and they both knew where there might be a grouse or three. Just up the track, where it began a fairly steep rise, on the left was a break in the stone wall and just on the other side of that wall was a group of five apple trees that were long ago planted on a south facing slope. Beyond the apples, were the remains of a once tidy hedge row and just beyond that were a few foundations. These were the remains of the family house, small barn and the stones surrounding a spring where the small springhouse sat. The spring still flowed and trickled its way down between the stepping stones that had long ago been placed there by strong arms and sweat. A good place for a couple of bird hunters to get a cool drink on a warm October afternoon and an appreciated gift provided for both man and critter, by He that fashioned the earth to work in such a way.

Just beyond and north of the homestead site and its half grown-in clearing, is a mature mixed hardwood that contains several huge virgin pines. As you have probably guessed, Daniel and Patch had discovered that the grouse are often found hanging around those apple trees and the vines around them. They generally fly around the edges of the clearing and into the woods beyond when flushed. This set up, when approached from the southeast corner, often presents a good shot at departing birds and this afternoon was no exception. Just as Daniel was stepping through the break in the wall, he saw Patch still as a Greek statue…


4 Responses to “Patch and Daniel- Intro”

  1. Saw your request on Fly Fishing in NH. My name there is llama-dude and I’m from Hendersonville, NC. Not too much to ask at all. Hopefully the comment comes through.

    Nice style of writing. Noticed a typo….the word “new” instead of “knew”, but that’s just me. I laughed out loud at the comment about maple syrup was invented in NH. Had never heard that variation before.

    Now that I know what you’ve got here, I’ll come back again.

    Keep up the blogging.



  2. Thank you very much, Dave.
    The comment did forward via email.
    Now I know…thanks again.
    North Carolina is a wonderful place, from mountains to the sea.
    I’ve spent a lot of time on the latter and some on the other.

    Thanks for the ‘typo’.

  3. Hope this comment gets through…Let me know

  4. It surely did. I got the email notification–sure as beans.
    Thanks a bunch.

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